CIOs are no strangers to lengthy approval processes. Whenever they want to bring in a new IT vendor, they have to go through multiple levels of approval: procurement, legal, compliance, and more. It can take anywhere from three to six months to catch up with a new IT vendor, and by then, the clock is coming. Any problem the vendor brings to solve only gets worse.
Meanwhile, the trend seems to be towards a more complex and cumbersome approval process. That’s partly due to increased risks and more privacy and compliance regulations, but also the number of reviews and signoffs continues to grow.
Cybersecurity indemnification clauses in contracts tend to be a point, according to Vince Kellen, CIO at the University of California, San Diego. The requirement for cybersecurity may vary by vendor, but for services residing in data centers, there is more attention, he said.
Finally, contract negotiations and changes can take months as legal teams change the language and terms to suit both parties.
Sometimes, by the time CIOs overcome these hurdles, it may actually be too late to use the new vendor.
Here, experts say, are steps CIOs can take to streamline IT vendor onboarding.
“Automation is the most effective weapon that IT can use to new IT technology vendors,” said David Linthicum, chief officer of cloud strategy, Deloitte Consulting LLP. It can be used to automate key processes that are usually manual, such as making sure agreements are signed or clearances are done with any engineers that need to be on site. Automation also ensures that compliance processes are met, billing and tax forms are completed, and IT vendors are onboard with payment processes, along with acceptable electronic invoice formats and payment option.
Introduce a workflow system
A common bottleneck in the onboarding process is the workflow itself. Many companies still rely on emails, Teams or Slack messages or other manual reminders to send paperwork, verify information or complete other onboarding tasks.
Lexmark uses ServiceNow to manage its workflows, which streamlines the onboarding process, said Vishal Gupta, SVP, chief technology and information officer at Lexmark. This eliminates manual back and forth that can eat up valuable onboarding time.
Set technical integration standards
Going onboard with a vendor can also take a while if their technology doesn’t integrate. Education has standards for certain forms of integration, such as data integration, that can streamline the process, according to Kellen of UCSD. “If there are de facto standards in the industry, go for those,” he said.
“Wherever possible, push vendors with newer integration strategies versus older ones,” Kellen said. For example, this may include modern integration methods that allow for data streaming, such as Kafka. These techniques are generally cheaper than the RESTful APIs popular with classic ERP vendors.
“Getting vendors to use the most modern techniques and (use) standards simplifies the onboarding process,” he said. This typically applies to software vendors, but even hardware vendors now have services that need to be integrated with existing technology, he added.
Consider the consortia contract
Pre-negotiated contracts will also speed up the onboarding process, according to Kellen of UCSD. The public sector often has a consortia that negotiates contracts in advance, making it more attractive to procurement officials.
For smaller organizations that don’t have access to the consortia, Kellen advised to keep a legal advisor who can negotiate a preliminary agreement. All work done after the preliminary agreement has been signed may be done under those terms. While this may prolong negotiations initially, it will ensure that companies will not experience any unintended consequences later, he said.
Another way to speed up IT vendor onboarding is to classify vendors into tiers, then apply the appropriate approval activities to them. “Organizations and IT departments should not apply a‘ one size fits all ’approach to vendor onboarding,” said Steven Jeffery, chief research director at Info-Tech Research Group and Software Reviews. “Classifying or tiering your vendors as part of the due diligence process will help determine your true strategic, operational, tactical, commodity, or Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3 vendor.”
Expect future needs
While no one can fully predict the future, anticipating the company’s needs early and starting the hiring process as soon as possible can mean shorter onboarding time. An organization can contact a preferred vendor and notify them within two years of an upcoming RFP, for example.
“If they are noticed early, they can adjust themselves to have fewer delays,” said Kellen of UCSD. “It just takes good planning on the part of the company to prepare the vendor for what you’re doing.”